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Primary Sources: What is a Primary Source?

This guide defines primary sources, provides examples and links to databases and Web sites that include primary sources.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Learn the difference between primary and secondary sources in this short video (3:17 min).

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Examples of Primary Sources:

  • Letters, diaries, autobiographies, oral history, manuscripts
  • Speeches, personal narratives, interviews
  • Newspaper articles written at the time of the event; photographs
  • Government documents, hearings, reports, statistical data, trial transcripts
  • Original research (research studies published in academic journals)
  • Works of art, literature, music
  • Artifacts, tools, clothing, furniture, coins

Secondary sources interpret or analyze historical events. They are generally at least one step removed from the event. Examples:

  • Scholarly or popular books
  • Reference books
  • Textbooks
  • Journal articles